Boycotting UN InvestigationsMonday 25/07/2022

The Only Productive Boycott for Israel


In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN routinely conducts investigations and releases corresponding reports. These reports, which claim to offer an overview of the situation, are often prejudiced and fail to give equal weight to the merits of each side.

After the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2021, the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) created a three-person commission, to be headed by Navanethem “Navi” Pillay. Exceptionally, the most recent investigative body has taken a scope which extends beyond the 2021 conflict, urging Israel to take actions to solve the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pillay’s multiple associations with supporters of BDS, as well as the UN’s disproportionate historical focus on Israel through constant condemnation, further take away from the report’s legitimacy. The report has rightfully been criticized as one-sided, though the Israeli Government’s decision to not cooperate with the commission will further complicate Israel’s relations with the UN as a whole, even on issues with which Israel and the UN agree on. Additionally, it will be manipulated by international critics as purported proof of Israel attempting to hide damaging information.

Despite the consequences associated with any decision to not cooperate with the UN, Israel should refuse to cooperate with investigations of this type. It should do this to take a stand against investigations made in bad faith and avoid legitimizing reports whose unfavorable findings could be easily predicted when taking the international bodies and commission which made the report into account.

The United Nations’ disproportionate focus on Israel has been documented, with a majority of resolutions criticizing the country, despite it containing a fraction of a percentage of the world’s population and land area.[1] Putting aside the attention that could be given to more rights-abusive countries, the UNHRC itself seats members such as China, Cuba, Pakistan and Venezuela, who are engaged in severe repression and human rights violations.

The report further weighs in on the sources of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole and identifies Israeli actions as the main cause. This large-scale conclusion goes beyond the usual confines of UN investigations and demonstrates the pre-existing beliefs about the nature of the conflict which the investigation sought to prove. Furthermore, the commission’s brief mentions of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s human rights abuses fail to meaningfully place liability on both sides in the conflict or include the threats which Israel faces. Through tone and relative content, the report emphasizes critiques of Israel above all else.

Navi Pillay’s history regarding Israel is ambiguous at best. Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, signed a letter to US President Joe Biden calling on Israel to withdraw entirely from the West Bank shortly before she was appointed head of the commission.[2] She further stated that “Apartheid is now being declared a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute and it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines and that is happening in Israel.”[3]

While this does not provide any concrete blame of Israel for the violence in 2021, it should come as little surprise that Pillay later stated that “[the report] is as an indicator of the asymmetrical nature of the conflict and the reality of one state occupying the other.”[4] Pillay’s colleagues, Miloon Khotari and Chris Sidoti, have similarly clear pre-existing notions about Israel. Khotari, has referred to the Second Intifada as simply a “wave of Palestinian resistance,” described Israel’s government as a theocracy and openly called for an end to military cooperation with Israel.

Similarly, Sidoti has worked with pro-BDS organizations such as the Australian Center for International Justice and the Independent Commission for Human Rights, established by Yasser Arafat himself in 1993.[5] These appointments greatly diminished the legitimacy of the commission from the beginning, and the backgrounds of its members and the UN bodies which created it give the appearance that the investigation was never a major factor behind the tone and substance of the report.

The COI investigation’s boundaries make cooperation disadvantageous, as its scope and mandate both ensure abnormal treatment. The investigation can include events going all the way back to the founding of Israel, and this COI will continue indefinitely, with more reports to follow each year even after the current report’s release. The wide scope and continuous nature demonstrate the UN’s obsession with condemning Israel, as no other COI has ever been given this kind of never-ending mandate.

Israel could cooperate with proceedings and argue that it has nothing to hide, though doing this would not lessen international blame on Israel and it would continue to be subject to both double standards and disproportionate emphasis by the UNHRC and by the international community at large. Instead, the cooperation would be taken as simply a prerequisite for the investigation itself, and there would be a report written in a similarly one-sided manner.

The significance of negative reports could prove damaging to Israel’s reputation amongst some, though importantly, these reports will continue to be released with or without Israel’s cooperation. Boycotting will allow Israel to take an active stance in fighting a report which Israel feels is unfair, as opposed to letting the UN villainize Israel and only voicing disagreement after it is done.

While some might argue that refusing to cooperate with an investigation will isolate Israel from allies and the international community as a whole, Israel’s allies understand this. The commitment between them and Israel to their alliances will remain in all likelihood no matter what conclusions the UNHRC might reach from its numerous investigations, as they have for decades. Because of this, Israel has limited benefits to cooperating with the UN on this issue and little downside for refusing to do so.

Israel should not and does not deny that many Palestinians have a poor quality of life for a variety of reasons, and accordingly has investigated reported incidents based off of investigations such as the Goldstone reports, even without cooperating during the reports’ productions.[6] In this way, while the decision to boycott the investigation does not solve the underlying problem of discrimination against Israel and can give off an appearance of concealing evidence, Israel has the standing and experience to make this decision given the nature of the investigation.

By Ethan Kanef, intern at JIJ

[1] Becker, R.N., Hillman, A.L., Potrafke, N. et al. The preoccupation of the United Nations with Israel: Evidence and theory. Rev Int Organ 10, 413–437 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-014-9207-3

[2] #NowistheTime. June 14, 2021, https://nowisthetimecoalition.com/.

[3] “Navi Pillay on Israel Being an Apartheid State: Short Version.” Www.youtube.com, 29 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sIEfCf1Dhs. Accessed 12 July 2022.

[4] “Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Including East Jerusalem, and Israel, Issues First Report.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, June 7, 2022. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/06/commission-inquiry-occupied-palestinian-territory-including-east-jerusalem

[5] Bayefsky, Prof Anne. “The Newest Anti-Israel UN Action Must Be Challenged – Now.” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, jcpa.org/article/the-newest-anti-israel-un-action-must-be-challenged-now/. Accessed 11 July 2022.

[6] Goldstone, Richard. “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 1, 2011.


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